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The church of St. Mary in Mount Olive was built as a mission of St. Mary’s Parish in Goldsboro with a generous donation from the Catholic Extension Society, and was dedicated by the Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina, Bishop Leo Haid, O.S.B., the Abbot of Belmont Abbey on May 21, 1916. The first Masses were celebrated by the Goldsboro-native and longtime pastor, Fr. Arthur R. Freeman.

Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist had been regularly celebrated in nearby Duplin County since the 1870s, where the Good Shepherd mission was established. The last Mass was celebrated in that historic chapel in 1956. The building, constructed in 1882, has since been destroyed by fire.

The original church structure in Mount Olive was partially destroyed by a fire in December of 1947. Re-building of the small wooden building covered by brown shingles began the next month. A bell tower was added and the charred remains were covered with brick. At that same time, the interior was refinished in oak and the windows were replaced with amber glass. The entire work was completed in February of 1948 and stood, largely unchanged, until the extensive re-modeling of the Great Jubilee Year, 2000, when the current windows were installed.

The land and house next to the church was purchased in 1955 and has since been used in a wide variety of ways, including: a sometimes apartment for a visiting missionary priest, a “Summer convent,” a parish kitchen, hall and office, and a space for faith formation (religious education) for all ages.

The mission of Mount Olive was, over time, made the responsibility of the parish in Newton Grove (Our Lady of Guadalupe), and then of the Clinton parish (Immaculate Conception). Finally, on July 1, 1998, in recognition of the growing immigrant population within the region, the mission was constituted as a parish by Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, and Fr. Fernando Torres was named the administrator, becoming the first resident priest to serve the community. A house on West John Street was soon purchased to serve as a rectory.

In July of 2001, Fr. Frank “Mac” Raffo was named pastor and the mission of the Posada Guadalupana in northern Duplin County (Wolfscape), which had been founded as a mission of the parish in Clinton, was entrusted to the parish in Mount Olive. For six months in 2004, the pastor of Newton Grove, Fr. Ned Shlesinger, was given the additional responsibility of serving as the pastor of Mount Olive and its mission. In order to assist him with this ministry, Fr. Edgar Sepúlveda was assigned to Newton Grove as parochial vicar. He soon took residence in Mount Olive.

Shortly thereafter, the Mount Olive parish counted two resident priests when, in January 2005, Fr. James F. Garneau was named as pastor and Fr. Sepúlveda remained as the parochial vicar. At the same time, the station at Pink Hill (Santa Teresita), Lenoir County, was entrusted to the parish. And in the same year, Fr. Garneau was appointed by the bishop as chaplain to the Hispanics of central Duplin County. Together with Fr. Sepúlveda, he initiated a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass in Kenansville for the Catholics of the area. Finally, in order to provide even greater pastoral attention and leadership to the expanding immigrant community, Fr. Sepúlveda was named administrator of the Posada and of the station at Pink Hill in January, 2006.

On July 10, 2007, by decree of Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, the Posada was constituted as a separate parish, entitled, Mary, Queen of the Americas, and the station at Pink Hill was created as a mission attached to it. The Mass in Kenansville was transferred to Magnolia, where a chapel had been constructed, under the leadership of the pastor in Clinton. At that time, St. Mary parish was given definitive boundaries, including territory in Wayne and Duplin counties.

Over eight acres of land, located two miles from the present site of the parish church, on Highway 117, was purchased on behalf of the parish on December 21, 2005. The parish began construction on the new property in December, 2010, with a desire to build a beautiful Catholic church and other necessary facilities in order to serve the People of God in this area for many years to come.

The New “Title”

As construction on the new parish church got underway, in late 2010, Fr. James F. Garneau, pastor, invited the parish council to consider modifying the name of the parish.  Founded as a mission of St. Mary, Goldsboro, in 1916, the mission and later parish (established in 1998) was simply known as St. Mary (in Mount Olive).  Recalling the story of St. Francis of Assisi, called by Christ to “Repair My Church,” Father Garneau suggested that the new name might be the same as that of the church re-built by the hands of St. Francis and his first companions, “St. Mary of the Angels.” The parish council, after due deliberation, unanimously endorsed the proposal, which was forwarded to the Bishop, who, in keeping with Canon Law, declared that the name of the parish be so amended, on June 8, 2011.

After Francis had embraced a life of poverty for the sake of the Gospel, one day he was at prayer in the Church of St. Damien in Assisi.  Therein, after prolonged meditation, he heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him from the beautiful crucifix over the altar: “Francis, repair my Church.”  Taking the command literally, Francis began to reconstruct the little church of St. Mary of the Angels, just outside of the town, which had long-since fallen into ruins.  This little church became the mother-church of the Franciscan movement, and today, is enshrined within a great basilica built to shelter it.

Soon, Francis and those who joined him in this work came to understand that the call to “repair the Church” also had a deeper, spiritual sense.  St. Francis’ witness of humility, faith, and freely-embraced poverty for the sake of the Kingdom offered a remedy for many of the ills that afflicted the Church, the Body of Christ in his day.  Reconciling our hearts and lives to God, forgiving our enemies, and loving our neighbor freely and without reservation remain the principal remedies for our individual lives, hearts, souls, and for the Church as a whole.

The Patronal Feast and the Plenary Indulgence

The patronal feast for the Holy Mother of God under this title, “St. Mary of the Angels,” is celebrated on August 2, each year. The Church has enriched this day with a plenary indulgence for those who devoutly visit the parish church on this day, and who pray at least the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.  In addition, the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence are required: that (within a week before or after the visit) the person seeking the indulgence make a sacramental confession, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, the Pope.  Moreover, one must be free of all attachment to sin in order to receive the plenary indulgence, which is the complete forgiveness of all temporal punishment due to sin.  If any of the conditions are defective, then the indulgence is partial.  The plenary indulgence, under the same conditions, is also extended to the faithful by the Holy Catholic Church on the day of the dedication of the church and altar, as well as on the anniversary day of this important event, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, in the years to come.